IN the United States, the jury is still out on whether or not spanking should be part of the disciplinary process.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in its policy statement is not so much for it, but the American College of Pediatricians, a newly formed (2002) and more conservative breakaway group from the AAP, is in favor of it given certain parameters.
Having read both policy statements and interviewed three doctors, one of them an esteemed child psychologist, I appreciate that different disciplinary methods are to be applied depending on the child’s temperament and the circumstances surrounding the undesirable behavior that merit the sanction in the first place.
Dr. Cynthia Cuayo Juico, chair of the Philippine Pediatrics Society’s School Health Committee, says to avoid spanking, children must be trained really early in life what the desired behaviors are. She says spanking cannot be entirely avoided, especially when the child is very young and cannot yet comprehend the consequences of her action.
Some instances will require an immediate response, and a light “swat” is sometimes necessary. But the parent has to comfort the child afterwards and explain why the action was done.
“The important thing is that you communicate to the child clearly and consistently what the rule is exactly and why you had to do what you did—be it a spanking, a withdrawal of privileges,” she says.
This can be difficult with younger children. Spanking, if it needs to be used, must be employed only on children above 18 months old and only until the age of 7.
“After that age, you must make every effort to explain or use other means of discipline to get your child to toe the line, so to speak.”
Child and family psychologist Dr. Honey Carandang believes to avoid incidents of spanking, every parent must practice the four C’s of discipline—conviction, clarity, consistency and consequence.
Carandang says rules must be imposed in a positive and clear way so that the child will understand.
“Parents also need to be consistent with the rules they impose, because the child needs to be reminded on a regular basis, and when the rules are broken, they must be consistent with the discipline as well.”
The fourth C—consequence—comes into play once the rule is not followed.
“It is best not to administer any punishments while in a state of anger. Often, when parents spank unreasonably, it comes from a place where they need to release a negative emotion, usually frustration.”
Another important point is the element of respect. Carandang cites a McCann Ericsson study where hundreds of Filipino children and adolescents were asked if it was okay that their parents got mad at them. The unanimous reply: They were fine with being scolded as long as it was done out of respect.
In an informal survey I conducted among 30 parents ranging in ages from 35-45, only 20 percent of them admitted to having spanked/swatted their children—maybe twice or thrice by the age of 7. The rest had decided they would use other forms of discipline—witholding privileges, timeout (for the younger ones) or keeping them grounded.
“Talking works better with my kids, and it actually takes a lot out of a parent, more than spanking ever would,” one parent said.
Majority of these parents—85 percent of them had grown up (like myself) feeling the brunt of their parents’ slipper or belt. The memory was not at all pleasant, and these same parents have refrained from spanking their children.
Spanking was often only done when the siblings were in a free-for-all, usually among the boys in the family. And they spanked only as last resort, when all admonitions had been disregarded, or there was willful disobedience of the child.
To discipline, one must exhaust other means before a parent thinks about spanking. If the child still does not comply, the parent would be better off seeking professional help both for himself/herself and the child having the behavioral problem.
Spanking should never escalate and must never injure a child physically (eg, leaving him or her black and blue or with welts on the body).
“I don’t remember the lesson,” a parent-respondent told me as she recalled the memory of a particularly bad spanking she got as a child. “All I can recall is the black-and-blue mark and the rage my father had as he whacked my thigh.”
This same mother has never spanked her children, who are now all well-adjusted college students.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has reported that the more children are hit, the more anger they report as adults. Also, the more they hit their own children when they are parents, the more likely they are to approve of hitting and to actually hit their spouses, and consequently the greater their marital conflict.
The American College of Pediatricians, meanwhile, (http://acpeds.org) gives guidelines for parental use of disciplinary spanking:
1. Spanking should be used selectively for clear, deliberate misbehavior, particularly that which arises from a child’s persistent defiance of a parent’s instruction. It should be used only when the child receives at least as much encouragement and praise for good behavior, as correction for problem behavior.
2. Milder forms of discipline, such as verbal correction, logical and natural consequences, and timeout should be used initially, followed by spanking when noncompliance persists.
3. Spanking should not be done on impulse or when a parent is out of control. Never spank in anger.
4. Spanking is usually not necessary until after 18 months, less necessary after 6 years, and rarely, if ever, should be used after 10 years of age.
5. The child should be forewarned of the spanking (in my experience, this is usually enough to get them to comply) for designated problem behaviors. And the spanking should always be administered in private to avoid embarrassment. After the spanking, a parent must reconnect in a warm manner with the child, explaining the punishment and reviewing the offense.
Use spanking very sparingly—if you must. Examine the circumstances behind the misbehavior, remember that discipline must be done with love, because the objective is to correct the wrong and not release one’s frustration.
Thus, if you are a parent with anger issues, please refrain from using spanking. Take a step back when you feel like you are about to lose it. Look inward and settle your own demons. Do not project them upon your hapless child.
How to promote positive behavior instead
Maintain a positive emotional tone in the home through play and parental warmth and affection for the child.
Provide attention to the child to increase positive behavior. For older children, attention includes being aware of and interested in their school and other activities.
Provide consistency in the form of regular times and patterns for daily activities and interactions to reduce resistance, convey respect for the child, and make negative experiences less stressful.
Be flexible, particularly with older children and adolescents, through listening and negotiation to reduce fewer episodes of child noncompliance with parental expectations. Involving the child in decision-making has been associated with long-term enhancement in moral judgment.
(From the AAP guidelines on child discipline)
E-mail the author at cathybabao @gmail.com